Wednesday, 8/9/17

  1. Douthat seizes the teachable moment
  2. A legal obligation to fire?
  3. “On the spectrum” in a doubletalk environment
  4. Mama didn’t flinch
  5. Glen Campbell, RIP
  6. orthodox” sex?

1

Leave it to Ross Douthat to bring at least three fresh and humane observations to a discussion that was growing stale and polarizing in less than one 24-hour news cycle.

[1] Men and women are different. On this, almost everyone acquainted with reality agrees. How different is the more controversial question, to which there is one particularly interesting answer: A little more different than they used to be.

This growing difference seems to be a striking aspect of modern Western life. In societies where both sexes have greater freedom — and women have more educational and professional opportunities relative to men than in the past — the sexes’ academic interests tend to diverge relative to more traditional societies. And not only their interests but their personalities as well: The more officially egalitarian a society, a credible body of research suggests, the stronger the differences in stereotypically male and female personality traits.

[2] [T]here was a sense in which Damore had to be fired, precisely because of the intertwined realities that he described. Silicon Valley is a very male environment, a land of nerd kings and brogrammers whose deepest beliefs tend to be the sort that men come up with when they don’t have very many women around — arch-libertarian, irreligious, utopian in a mechanistic style.

But the internet industry is also part of a wider elite culture that is trending in the opposite direction, becoming more feminized and feminist, and inclined to view male-dominated enclaves with great suspicion. So Silicon Valley’s leaders use corporate wokeness, diversity initiatives and progressive virtue signaling as a kind of self-protection, a way of promising that they’re mostly men but they’re the good kind of men, so that discrimination lawsuits and antitrust actions and other forms of regulation are less attractive to their critics.

I strongly suspect that more than a few Silicon Valley higher-ups agreed with the broad themes of Damore’s memo. But just as tech titans accept some censorship and oppression as the price of doing business in China, they accept performative progressivism as the price of having nice campuses in the most liberal state in the union and recruiting their employees from its most elite and liberal schools. And for questioning that political performance while defending the disproportionate maleness that makes it necessary, the Google memo-writer simply had to go.

[3a] Meanwhile, the real truth — which the memo at its most sensible almost grasped — is that Silicon Valley might benefit from having a more female-friendly culture because of the differences between men and women, not because those differences are all somehow a misogynist invention. The fact that the brave new online world of social media may be particularly psychologically unhealthy for young women, for instance, seems like a telling indicator of what can go wrong with a virtual architecture built by brilliant and obtuse males.

[3b] But since the usual way to reintegrate the sexes is to have them marry one another and raise kids, what Silicon Valley probably needs right now more than either workplace anti-microaggression training or an alt-right underground is a basic friendliness to family, pregnancy and child rearing.

This is why the new Apple headquarters, which has a 100,000-square-foot fitness and wellness center but no child care center, is a more telling indicator of what really matters to Silicon Valley than all the professions of gender-egalitarianism that have followed James Damore’s heretical comments about sex differences.

  1. Is the divergence of the sexes in prosperous western societies relative to traditional societies a function of how we in the west enculturate children, or is it a natural expression of intrinsic differences that can’t be so fully expressed when economic necessity constrains choices?
  2. And (Gulp!) some of my mockery of Google yesterday overlooked that second point. It’s not an excuse of duplicity, but I’ll die of apoplexy for sure if I rage at every unjust “way of the world.”
  3. Maybe I should be boycotting Apple? And for a complement to Douthat’s point 3a, consider Sara Wachter-Boettcher’s Washington Post piece, Tech’s sexism doesn’t stay in Silicon Valley. It’s in the products you use. It’s flawed by preliminary ritual defamation of Mr. Damore, but its examples are telling. Anyone want to try coming up with a corresponding list of very popular apps that neglect men’s interests or needs? I didn’t think so.

2

Mr. Damore doesn’t belong to a union, and private companies aren’t bound by the First Amendment, so Google was within its right to fire him. But before his firing, Mr. Damore had complained to the National Labor Relations Board about superiors “misrepresenting and shaming me.” Now he is arguing that his dismissal constitutes retaliation. This is a stretch, since the labor board’s purview doesn’t extend to individual workplace disputes. But Mr. Damore could still try to take Google to court.

Google’s lawyers, on the other hand, may have noted the Justice Department’s definition of sexual harassment as “activity which creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment for members of one sex.” Once female workers complained, Google may have felt it had a legal obligation to fire Mr. Damore.

The liability imperative doesn’t stop there. Google is under pressure from an Obama-era Labor Department investigation of its pay practices, which then-Labor Secretary Tom Perez initiated and the Trump Administration has continued. In April, Labor officials claimed they had uncovered “systemic compensation disparities” and “compelling evidence of very significant discrimination against women.” In this brave new legal world, a James Damore is collateral damage.

(Wall Street Journal)

3

Rod Dreher comes up with an evocative “what if?”

I wonder if fired Google programmer James Damore is on the autism spectrum. It has long been known that a disproportionate number of people in software development show signs of having Asperger syndrome.  It has a lot to do with why they’re so good at their jobs.

I feel very sorry today for Google employees who are on the spectrum. They may have little to no intuitive feel for how the social, and social justice, hierarchy at the company works, and won’t know if something they think is unproblematic is actually stepping on a land mine. As microaggression obsession turns workplaces turn into neurotic hothouses, they become far more dangerous places for people on the spectrum, who are at a severe disadvantage navigating through these dangerous waters.

If Google (and other companies) really mean what they say about diversity, then they ought to be more sensitive to the particular social challenges faced by those employees on the spectrum. They ought to be teaching neurotypicals how to work productively with people on the spectrum — and that means giving them a lot of grace.

… and one of his readers weighs in:

Reader “Aspie In Massachusetts” comments:

I’m a former software and hardware tech writer who was fired from many jobs, essentially for being an Aspie. While I was considered as technically excellent and a good writer, I couldn’t pick up social cues.

Over the years, I made various comments that to me were neutral or even positive. Yet I was often told that my comments were offensive. I had no idea why.

Once I learned that I was an Aspie and was taught some social skills, I learned what to say and what not to say. But it was too late for me; I had been fired from so many tech writer jobs that I could no longer find another job.

From what I’ve seen and read of James Damore, I’m sure he’s an Aspie. I suspect that lots of men in high tech think the way he does but know not to say so in public.

So while I find Damore’s ideas repugnant, I also have compassion for him. I suspect he had no idea that what he wrote was offensive. Aspies’ brains are wired differently than those of neurotypicals. Therefore, what many neurotypicals perceive as bad character is really biologically caused lack of awareness.

Rather than firing Damore, I think he needs to be taught some social skills. He’s hardly the only sexist male in high tech. His problem was that he didn’t know not to express his ideas out loud.

Could we be dealing here with an ADA claim versus a sexual harassment claim? That’s not how Damore has framed it, but the day may be coming when someone else legitimately does so.

4

It’s 2009, and I’m in Philadelphia to deliver a talk at a conference. During a long break, I decide to visit the Mutter Museum. I teach anatomy, and the Mutter houses a collection of so-called medical curiosities. I examine the wall of skulls, the cases full of skeletons, and go downstairs, where preserved specimens wait for inspection.

And there I am confronted with a large case full of specimen jars. Each jar contains a late-term fetus, and all of the fetuses have the same disability: Their spinal column failed to fuse all the way around their spinal cord, leaving holes (called lesions) in their spine. Some extrude a bulging sac containing a section of the cord. These balloons make the fetuses appear as if they’re about to explode. This condition is called spina bifida.

I stand in front of these tiny humans and try not to pass out. I have never seen what I looked like on the day I was born.

But this is essentially what my mother saw soon after I was born. I’m awe-struck that she didn’t flinch, didn’t institutionalize me, but kept me, fought for me, taught me how to fight ….

(Riva Lehrer, Where All Bodies Are Exquisite) That just about took my breath away, too. Great essay.

5

Who didn’t enjoy Glen Campbell? But was he anyone’s absolute favorite?

Glen Campbell, the sweet-voiced, guitar-picking son of a sharecropper who became a recording, television and movie star in the 1960s and ’70s, waged a publicized battle with alcohol and drugs and gave his last performances while in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, died on Tuesday in Nashville. He was 81.

Tim Plumley, his publicist, said the cause was Alzheimer’s.

Mr. Campbell revealed that he had the disease in June 2011, saying it had been diagnosed six months earlier. He also announced that he was going ahead with a farewell tour later that year in support of his new album, “Ghost on the Canvas.” He and his wife, Kimberly Campbell, told People magazine that they wanted his fans to be aware of his condition if he appeared disoriented onstage.

What was envisioned as a five-week tour turned into 151 shows over 15 months. Mr. Campbell’s last performance was in Napa, Calif., on Nov. 30, 2012, and by the spring of 2014 he had moved into a long-term care and treatment center near Nashville.

Mr. Campbell released his final studio album, “Adiós,” in June. The album, which included guest appearances by Willie Nelson, Vince Gill and three of Mr. Campbell’s children, was recorded after his farewell tour.

That tour and the way he and his family dealt with the sometimes painful progress of his disease were chronicled in a 2014 documentary, “Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me,” directed by the actor James Keach. Former President Bill Clinton, a fellow Arkansas native, appears in the film and praises Mr. Campbell for having the courage to become a public face of Alzheimer’s.

Once again, I’m forced to agree with Bill Clinton. And I love the evocative names of those late albums and especially the documentary.

While I understand the cry of the heart from which they come, I cringe at the expressions “he’s not there any more” or she’s not there any more” spoken of dementia patients. I believe — yes, as a largely unverifiable dogma of Christian anthropology — that he or she is still there in an important sense, and that when the soul and body finally (albeit temporarily) part ways, you’ll know it because we conventionally call that “death.” (Their reunion we call “resurrection.”)

6

For any readers interested enough in the kerfuffle over whether Christian “orthodoxy” includes a sexual morality — a kerfuffle to which I devoted one blog before being assured that more competent hands were taking up the task — I offer this update, in no particular order beyond “roughly chronological after the first threee, which are seminal.”

  1. On “orthodox Christianity”: some observations, and a couple of questions. This is James K.A. Smith’s provocation that incited me to write
  2. orthodoxy, heresy, and definitions – Snakes and Ladders. One of two Alan Jacobs early contributions.
  3. on sexuality and the grammar of orthodoxy – Snakes and Ladders. Second of two Alan Jacobs early contributions
  4. A Remark on Creedally-Defined Orthodoxy
  5. Andrew T. Walker » Why Are We Having This Conversation? Thoughts on the Smith-Jacobs Orthodoxy Debate
  6. Are evangelicals becoming more open to gay marriage?
  7. Is Nicaea Enough?
  8. Orthodoxy, Sex Ethics, and the Meaning of Nature – Mere Orthodoxy | Christianity, Politics, and Culture
  9. On Smith’s Proposal for “Orthodoxy”-language and SSM
  10. The de facto “affirming” church

* * * * *

Fiat justitia ruat caelum

There is no epistemological Switzerland. (Via Mars Hill Audio Journal Volume 134)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

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